While awareness of invasive species and the impact they have on the natural environment is a hot topic, I recently read an article, on a warm and related topic if you will, about butterfly releases at weddings: ‘Are butterfly releases at weddings a conservation concern or opportunity?’ by T. R. New. And it got me thinking.

Butterflies are undoubtedly aesthetically pleasing, and when released at a wedding are no doubt a spectacle to behold. But while the keen photographers in the wedding party emerge, cameras a-blazing, the butterflies may not perform as one would wish; encircling the happy couple in cartoon fashion. Insects often don’t. Take this from one who knows: numerous years of insect-breeding taught me something!

Confetti, thanks to a gravitational pull, falls down (unless wind has a part to play) and makes for a much more reliable spectacle, and photo opportunity.

So, why introduce an(other) unknown into the big day? The confusion appears to lie in the intersection of the Venn diagram, where releasing butterflies would be aesthetically pleasing, releasing butterflies may be detrimental to the surrounding environment, and in the overlap we have a confused marketing slant where releasing butterflies ‘helps to enhance natural populations and halt declines’. As pointed out by New, the release site would be of importance here. Is it perhaps clutching at straws (escaping butterflies?) to offer a positive ecological angle to the proceedings.

T. R. New tells us that the USDA (2003) have stated that only 9 butterfly species, all Nymphalidae and Papilionidae, may be transported between states in the USA. Butterfly species mentioned in the article include the monarch butterfly, Danaus plexippus, the founder species of the wedding butterfly industry in North America, Europe and Australia, and Vanessa cardui, or painted lady, which is offered by some North American companies. While the latter may be a beautiful addition to the wedding scene, it is also a polyphagous insect. Polyphagy allows it large scope to be considered a pest in some instances and having been recorded feeding on soyabean (Glycine max), it is regarded as a pest on this crop in Cuba, for example (Marrero and Nunez, 2005). 

Perhaps before ‘the event of the year’, it would be worth a glance at CABI’s up and coming Invasive Species Compendium. Not necessarily just to get a handle and more information on the particular butterfly species you may be considering releasing at your wedding, but for a more informed view on invasive species as a whole, and the real threat to biodiversity, food security, health or economic development that invasive species pose. 

Companies addressing concerns state that ‘butterflies are collected and bred from areas in which the wedding will take place’ and ‘all butterflies supplied are males, so as not to overpopulate the region’ (SABBA, 2005). It’s difficult to think of butterflies as environmental pollutants, but this is the form they take when released outside their natural range.

As insects are sensitive to environmental conditions, it will come as no surprise that conditions for release at events are fairly specific: calm, warm, and at least 30-60 minutes of daylight left, so that the butterflies are able to find a roosting site. I wonder whether this is ever seen as having 10 or so more wedding guests to cater for?


  • Marrero L, Nunez R, 2005. Vanessa cardui Poey (Lepidoptera: Nymphalidae), a new report for soybean in Cuba. Revista de Proteccion Vegetal, 20(1):60-62.
  • New TR, 2008. Are butterfly releases at weddings a conservation concern or opportunity? Journal of Insect Conservation, 12:93-95.
  • SABBA (South African Butterfly Breeding Association), 2005. Butterfly Weddings.
  • USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), 2003. Information about releasing butterflies in US.

1 Comment

  1. ian on 14th July 2008 at 7:16 pm

    Releasig butterflies would be a wonderful idea. Unfortunately here in the UK, many species are under severe pressure and it simply wouldn’t be possible.

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